This past Wednesday, Bucky and Black Widow returned to their spy-killing ways in the pages of Winter Soldier #1 by Ed Brubaker , Buth Guice and Bettie Breitweiser. As the advertisements leading up to the book’s release had revealed, the premise for the series is “What if there wasn’t only one?”, meaning that there’s more then one cold war Russian Sleeper Agent and it’s up to James and Natasha to to track ’em down. An interesting idea, but did it work out in the end? The short answer is so far, so good.

At the start of the issue, we’re dropped right into the action as The Winter Soldier and the Black Widow uncover an old Soviet Secret Base that’s remained active post Cold War and is housing a Containment Unit holding one of the sleeper agents. When Buck and Widow make short work of the skeleton crew guarding the base, they find that someone has already awoken the sleeper agent who is now gone. After attaining information from Jasper Sitwell, their intel contact, the duo is off to the next possible location where a sleeper is being kept. After some covert tactics that segues into some high octane action, they make it to the chamber to see that locations containment unit being transported out. Before they can react, they are flung back into battle with the most unlikely of combatants. Meanwhile, the need for the sleeper agents is slightly revealed as former Soviet spy The Red Ghost and ex Latverian Prime Minister Lucia Von Bardas set the first phase of an assassination plot in motion.

I have read a lot of Ed Brubaker. I find he is at his best when he gives us an intimate window into the lives of slightly broken people who are under pressure and lets what they’re “not saying” define them as much what they “are saying”. He’s done that countless times in the pages of Criminal. He’s doing that in Fatale, the new series he’s doing with Sean Phillips at Image (Issue #2 just came out). And he did a great deal of that in both Daredevil and Captain America (especially when Bucky wielded the shield). But that’s the key element that’s been missing from his most recent Captain America issues. The deep characterization has been put on the back burner to make way for blockbuster action sequences. Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy Cap. I just miss that particular element of Brubaker’s storytelling in his mainstream comic work. Thankfully, I’m glad to see that it has returned here. The complexity of both Bucky and the Black Widow are on display. There is not a great deal of dialogue, but you feel the characters desperation and drive to do what has to be done to make things right. The issue is a quick read, but when it’s done, there’s a great deal of satisfaction from how the story unfolds and how in touch Brubaker is with his characters. Something, again I’m sorry to say, is lacking in Cap right now.

The book is made even more satisfying by the visuals care of Guice and Breitweiser. Guise does a great job of delivering a photo-realistic style that doesn’t feel forced or jarring. There’s a smoothness to his design that makes everything feel like the best James Bond Films. Breitweiser kicks it up a notch with a great choice of colours. With the exception of the first and last pages of the issue, the entire book utilizes cool colours, like it’s being bathed in blue light. The mood is set perfectly by it’s pretty pictures.

Hands down, this was the most satisfying first issue of a series I have read in years. It’s very rare when a book I’m jazzed about exceeds my expectations, let alone meets them. I am excited for the next issue and thanks to Marvel’s crazy February shipping schedule, I only have to wait 2 more weeks to read it. Don’t cheat yourself out of this great read. You don’t need to wait for the trade. Go out and buy issue one now!

And if you’re gonna geek out, GEEK HARD!

He's Back! He's Bad! He sure looks MAD!